This review is a « free translation » of the original Dutch review from Ruud Jonker (Music Emotions magazine July 2023)
With Matrix Audio Into the Music
The Dutch audio consumer is characterized by very conservative purchasing behaviour. The same triad of brands has been sold for fifty years in shops that almost all carry the same range. This fear of innovation means that there are many products that go unnoticed, but often have an enormous quality. The brands moving beyond the usual suspects are often offered by webshops and by some physical stores that are a bit more adventurous.
Magna Hifi is a webshop and comes with the young, but extremely successful brand Matrix Audio. A music server and power amplifier are now serving in one of the listening rooms. Magna Hifi was founded by Rob and Jos. Technical people who are familiar with electronics and work in the high-tech software and hardware industry. Those who have a little insight into electronics will often be surprised at how hi-fi and high-end equipment is constructed. Recognizable to the undersigned and there are often shockingly expensive hi-fi products here that fall apart due to the technical blunders, the cheap components and the cheap and bad way everything is built. You often buy a very mediocre performance for a lot of money.
Rob and Jos were confronted with a media streamer at one point, pulled the device apart and were able to take the sound performance to a much higher level. Modifications are therefore a service of the company, together with the sale of parts and of course ready-made hi-fi devices.
Your author was triggered by a board with a ladder dac for an extremely acceptable price. Your hands are itching to build a dac yourself. It is a fairly universal and widely used board, also in commercially available products. You can build a probably very good dac yourself for a few hundred euros. If you buy a hi-fi product based on this dac board, you will probably pay several thousand. The products offered include well-known brands such as Farad, Grimm and Pink Faun, but also streamers, converters and class-d amplifiers from relatively unknown brands. Cables are also available, your reviewer’s Achilles’ heel.
One day there was a huge box in front of the door with two Matrix Audio devices. Perhaps not very well known yet, very beautifully packaged and extremely chic and solidly built units, made of aluminum. These are the Matrix Element P2 class-d power amplifier and the Matrix Element X2 Music Streamer.
The company has existed for ten years and was founded by three young students in Xi’an, who started building loudspeakers out of their love for music and interest in audio equipment. A few years later they graduated from university and decided to start a company. Matrix Electronic Technology Co. LTD was born in Xi’an. The starting point is to build high-performing, but also visually very attractive equipment that fits into the living room. So there is listening and watching. ‘Into the Music’ is their slogan, because that’s what it’s all about. They consciously seek contact with music lovers and audiophiles. They are invited to their listening facilities and showrooms and they learn from it. Ultimately, they build the devices that everyone wants. Matrix Audio is now a very professional company. They do business in 38 countries and have 101 business partners there. The company is a typical example of a successful startup. A bunch of young, energetic and enthusiastic young people with a clear vision, who built up a huge business in ten years.
Matrix Audio Element P2 Audio Power Amplifier
This P2 is a class-d power amplifier. Whoever drops the term ‘class-d’ again hits a hot topic that results in endless and pointless discussions online and from which no substantiated and nuanced piece of consensus ever emerges. To even attempt to contribute to this sewer of controversy is an observation that some class-d amplifiers present an extremely high degree of clarity, unheard of in live music. On the other hand, there are class-d designs that sound very naturally. Speed and the enormous power in the low frequencies are a kind of basic characteristic of class-d designs. The low energy consumption feels good for our planet. Well, in the listening room there are so far positive experiences with class-d amplifiers from TAD and from PS Audio. Negative experiences were with class-d amplifiers that you can better use as motor control instead of for music experience.
The P2 has XLR and RCA inputs. With a switch on the rear panel, you can choose between the RCA or XLR input. The third option is ‘mono’. The amplifier then works in bridge mode, is a monoblock and can only be controlled via the extra XLR input available for this purpose. The power to be delivered is 230 watts per channel at 4 ohms and 100 watts per channel at 8 ohms. 500 watts are available in mono mode into 8 ohms. In 4 ohms that is 850 watts. The P2 also has loudspeaker terminals (WBT-0708 Cu), an input and output trigger and the IEC connection. Striking are the ‘feet’ with CBVB pads. They consist of ceramic balls and silicone rubber. You then get real damping by absorbing vibrations and converting them into heat. Many times better than the useless function of spikes.
Matrix Audio Element X2 Music Streamer
This stylishly built device, with a 3.46-inch LCD touch screen, is definitely lacking with the designation ‘Music Streamer’. It’s basically a preamp, headphone amp, dac and streamer. The X2 is the new version of the earlier X. The possibilities are immense and to describe them all would fill half a Music Emotion. It can all be found on Matrix Audio’s international website, just like the downloadable manuals. Reading is really necessary here, otherwise you have no idea how to get to the configuration screens using the display, for example. The highlights include the various inputs and outputs of the X2. Digital sources can be connected coaxially, optically, wirelessly, via the network (RJ45), via USB and via HDMI. The USB-B connection is intended for connecting a laptop or PC. The other USB port accepts a smaller plug on the cord of some memory devices. A supply voltage is then also present for the relevant drive. Wireless is via Wi-Fi. There is an analog output via XLR and via RCA. The analog input is via RCA. One of the HDMI
connections are according to the hdmi arc protocol. The other is called IIS LVDS. That is an input that accepts I2S. Various CD and SACD drives transmit via this protocol. The signal then enters the dac chip immediately and usually offers better sound quality. Because I2S doesn’t
standardized, this input will not always be compatible with every drive on the market. Apart from the IEC mains connection, there are additional trigger connections on the rear panel. This allows the X2 itself to be switched on, but also to switch on other equipment. The headphone output (4.4mm balanced) is on the front panel.
Features The X2 features the superior Saber ESS9083PRO DAC chip, which is clocked by the Crystek CCHD-950 ultra-low phase noise femtosecond clock. The digital part has full streaming functionality. Think of contact with the well-known streaming sites (Qobuz, Tidal and Spotify), internet radio, vTuner and podcasts. Files can be downloaded from a stick or USB drive via USB. The X2 also reads everything from the internal ‘home network’. This can be done wirelessly via Apple Airplay 2 or via a wired or WiFi network connection to a NAS and computers where music files are stored. The X2 is Roon Ready. With Roon on an iPad you see the X2 as a network device to which you can send files. The bottom line is that you can stream files from any device to the X2. The X2 reads pcm, dsd, MQA and MQA Studio Stream in different resolutions. PCM is possible up to and including 768 kHz via USB and HDMI.
MA Remote is the control app for IOS and Android. It is currently fashionable to pour the entire existence into apps. In the audio you often see the application of apps because the technology is there and not because it makes sense. What good is a subwoofer with an app? There should always be alternatives for apps in everyday life. In audio, a music server is one of the few devices for which an app makes sense. You want to search and select from the listening position from the enormous amount of content that can be downloaded via the X2. In the listening room, that content comes from the big bad internet, but for the most part from the studio’s internal network, where 19-inch servers with music files are located underground. Digital is preferably listened to in the listening room from CD, SACD, digital master recorders and digital hi-res files.
The X2 also comes with an old fashioned RM4 remote control. Among other things, the source can be selected, the volume can be adjusted, filters can be selected and tracks can be changed. With this new X2, it’s not a question of what can be done with it, but rather what can’t be done. That’s very little. You might complain about the lack of Bluetooth or an AES/EBU input over XLR. Not very exciting for the average consumer.
For most loudspeakers, the P2 provides sufficient power. Listening to this amp was surprising. The enormous power gives an extra octave in the bass. Not only powerful, but the layer is also nicely defined. There is nothing to complain about the very spacious soundstage and the dynamics. Nor about the micro-detailing and beautiful sound transmission. The reproduction of the midrange is of great class. There is no high that is characterized by an exaggerated degree of brightness. It is sound-wise very good and not soft either. The P2 is therefore a class-d design that performs very well. Coincidentally, an A/B amplifier with a price tag above 35K stood in the listening room for a few days. That P2 came pretty close. The X2 Music Streamer was quickly configured and operational. The user interface is quite user-friendly. In the field of human-interface interaction, frameworks available that provide guidelines for building user-friendly communication
methods between man and computer. This can be found, among other things, in the ISO/IEC 25010 Software Quality Model. You notice that Matrix Audio has at least thought about this. The sound quality of such a music streamer depends on a large number of factors. The built-in converter chip, how it was implemented, the quality of the power supply, how EMI and RFI are handled and which clock is used. The quality of the interfaces that receive or send out the various digital and analog signals also play a role. External factors that determine the quality of the sound have to do with the digital code that the streaming sites send out, the resolution of digital files on devices connected to the home network and present on USB devices and the quality of the analog sources and content available on the X2 are connectable. Because the X2 is most likely mainly listened to with content that is offered via a network, the almost maximum achievable sound quality has been achieved here by streaming high-resolution files from internal NAS
drives and servers. An even higher quality is in principle possible from devices that are connected via USB or with an analog input signal. The X2 does not have built-in storage. It is a streamer and the target group will mainly purchase this device for the streaming functionality. You speak of ‘streaming’ when there is an intermediate computer network.
But, you have a point if you also refer to data transport via USB as ‘streaming’.
With hi-res files over the network, the X2 performs very well. The ESS9083PRO is characterized by a direct and realistic presentation. So no laid-back sound. Dynamics, detailing, focusing, sound transmission and spaciousness are very good. What remains of this depends on which content you are going to play from which source. MP3 files obviously have a lower sound quality. But, the X2 will get the most out of such a file.
It is said that Japan, just after World War II, made products of lower quality. In the years that followed, products from this country developed to the enormous level of quality as we know it. You can now see a similar development in countries such as China and Vietnam. The younger Chinese generation in particular is focusing more and more on quality. Matrix Audio is an example of this. Given the investment required, the two devices discussed cannot be characterized as disposable electronics. Beautifully and solidly built with sublime sound performance. The X2 is the almost complete preamplifier, headphone amplifier and streamer with all the functionality the user wants. The P2 is a very good sounding power amplifier. An example that you can also make music with class-d.